Before setting out on my Coast17 walk, I set out my Principles of Adventure.
On every account I have read of treks around the British coast, you have to have “rules”. I guess that is because the pioneer, John Merrill, had rules for his 1978 first completion. An endeavour needs some means by which it can be validated. However, I dislike rules because they constrain; an adventure should be freeing. Instead, I adopted principles because they provide a guiding ethos and scope for creative response.
And who would enforce rules anyway? Least of all me, it seems. How did I do? Let’s see:
No.1 – Be present and mindful always
The most challenging aspect of this walk to my maintaining a mindful state was undoubtedly the practicality of getting somewhere from somewhere. The routines of planning camp stops, navigation and restocking with food all require a degree of forward planning, often whilst walking. All of which took me out of the present moment. But in the long run, planning and establishing contingencies reduces the risk of things going wrong. When things run smoothly, there is less to worry about, so enjoying the moment when we can becomes wholly easier.
Mindfulness is not about being happy and content all the time. I lost count of the number of times I noticed myself becoming frustrated and angry at the litter and the marine plastics, or the poor signing and routing of some of the major trails. There were occasions when I was very uncomfortable in the rain and gales, or feeling adrift and purposeless.
No; Mindfulness is about noticing feelings and acknowledging them. It is also about acceptance. Imagine the opposite – getting angry and upset at myself for being upset. Acceptance simply allows us to notice the emotion, to accept it and to move on quickly before negativity takes a hold. Without acceptance, low moods would have lasted a whole lot longer and I would never have got past my injury in Plymouth to walk as far as I did.
Mindful photography? Just the primary goal of moving led to my passing by many opportunities to really be with the landscape or people for photography. But I felt I remained responsive and aware, maybe not as deeply as usual, but certainly with no preconceptions or contrived techniques.
No.2 – Eat Well; Sleep Well
In terms of the carefully calculated diet plans I set out, I did not do well. But that says more about the plans than the reality; I felt I ate really well.
There were only a couple of days where my evening meal was frugal, usually when I had banked on there being a shop close to camp and there was not. I made sure to have a pack of coucous and some pasta and sauce to hand, so that I always had something hot to eat. Usually I would add some vegetables and cooked chicken or ham to these, but my highlights were when I could grab cans of stewed steak and potatoes, or a jar of curry and carry them for just a short distance.
My breakfasts mainly comprised a couple of sachets of instant porridge early, followed by a bacon sandwich or a full breakfast with mid-morning coffee – thank you Wetherspoons. On the days where I managed to do that, my regular grazing on snack bars and nuts took my right through to early evening. Otherwise, I would often lunch on pies, bread and cheese and fruit.
Buying food was not as easy as you might imagine. The larger stores with the best choice of convenient and cheap food are usually on the edges of town. On the coast routes, I was frequently making use of Spar and Nisa and Premier stores, where there are basics a plenty but not much else. Don’t forget, a backpacker needs the best combination of calories for weight whilst keeping a good balance.
Sleep? No issue at all. I was regularly asleep by dark and awake with the light, at whatever time they came.
No.3 – Connect with home everyday
With the exception of a couple of days where I was out of signal, I managed a perfect record. And how I enjoyed my chats with Carolyn, every one of which was special. I had also set up a private chat group with the boys and their girls and one or two other friends, so that I could share more news that I wouldn’t necessarily include in the blog. Some of those conversations were hilarious; most were uplifting and energising, keeping me sane and reassured in low times.
The blog started as a couple of lines of summary, but by the end of the adventure I was posting a couple of paragraphs of meaningful thoughts. Blogging is not as easy as it seems, but I grew into the habit and also managed the power in my phone well enough to have no concerns about comms.
No.4 – Walk Long; Walk Slow – Expand each day into the time available
There were times I didn’t walk mindfully. Often it would be when was in my forward thinking mode, or when hurrying by in an eagerness to arrive. I had set out an intention to walk long and walk slow, but a default position was to arrive early – I felt that a long day was defined not by miles walked but by my arrival time in camp, so I hurried along too much. That certainly allowed me the time to relax at camp, which I could have turned into extended photography sessions at dusk. But the truth is that I was always tired, so sleep became priority one.
No.5 – Meet people at every opportunity
I can’t tell you how much meeting people became the sustenance of the adventure.
Before this trek I had never walked or travelled alone for more than a few days. It was something I had always wanted to try. And I discovered that I have an emotional threshold of three to four weeks before I start to crave regular company from someone close.
So during those times, taking the time out to meet people – really to meet them – is fundamental.
Mountain people always speak to each other. And it seems that it is easier when travelling alone. When I met a couple, I usually struck up a conversation with one person first. Sometimes our conversations lasted a few minutes; sometimes they stretched to half an hour. I met some extraordinary people, some on the trail, some over coffee, some in camp. All of whom I will remember for their friendliness and their openness.
I did let some photo opportunities slip by, which I later regretted; hence the one point deduction.
Oh, and it really is the case that we in the Southeast just don’t get it. South Wales, Lancashire and Cumbria, Northumberland and Yorkshire: people everywhere, not just walkers, were friendly and open. Many times in the south I would look and say hello, only to get nothing back, not even a glance. Come on Southerners; lighten up for Fred’s sake!
No.6 – Be grateful for every ounce of friendship
- Be grateful for every ounce of friendship, support, companionship and hospitality – self-explanatory
I think there could be no argument that I accomplished this. Occasionally I had a passing negative thought when a campsite charged me full whack price, but then I just remembered that they had a business to run and settled down to enjoy that I had a pitch at all.
No.7 – Wild camp wherever possible
Well my intentions were good, but it just is not as straightforward to find a pitch on the coasts as it is in the mountains. To bivouac discretely requires that I find a good pitch, tucked away and out of sight, and that I establish the camp at or after dark. Apart from not wanting to hang around, such ground is hard to find and is mostly privately owned or prohibits camping anyway. So campsites it was, most of the time. And I was not unhappy with that at all, especially when I could get a decent shower.
Overall: 2/10 (mainly for good intent)
No.8 – Enjoy the sounds of the universe, not a device
Not once did I listen to music whilst walking or even in the tent. The rewards were the sounds of waves, winds, birds and life.
I will never forget the happy flock of hedge sparrows two feet behind my tent at Beal, who chattered loudly until dusk and again at dawn – literally the sound of sparrowfarts. The roar of the sea over Chesil Beach, out of sight but much in mind; the hum of industry at Milford Haven and Redcar; the deafening traffic at the M5 and Avonmouth; the gannets at Bempton …
Music definitely played its part too. But it was always in my head. The songs that took me over, sometimes against my will but mostly causing me to sing.
No.9 – Take a social-media and news holiday
It really is freeing and destressing to switch off the news – all news. I confess that I did on occasions scroll through a few Facebook posts from friends and checked for responses to the blogs and for messages, but it stayed pretty much off. I did also check a few sports results too, mainly England cricket and Brighton & Hove Albion.
I bought a newspaper from time to time and read it cover to cover in the tent or in Wetherspoons over breakfast. Going through the i puzzle page was especially enjoyable. And, once in that habit, we have both continued to find time to sit and read a quality title a couple of times a week.
No.10 – Embrace local micro-economies
I talk above about shops. There were many small communities unfortunate enough to lack a shop, so I definitely felt worthy in using those that I passed.
But a local economy is not about shops only. I used independent cafés instead of chain coffee shops (except for the lifesaving Wetherspoons and to get a free coffee in Nero); I used the ferries, some of which are in danger of going out of business, like at Fleetwood – and, who knows, if more people used the ones in Essex they would run all year instead of being seasonal; I used little farm campsites wherever possible, avoiding the impersonal and expensive resort parks.
This was an experience I could apply more in life generally. An adventure on foot, where we cannot just divert a few miles somewhere else, means that we are always local. We should at home support our local businesses.
Overall: 8/10 (for the occasional lapse to a superstore …)
No 11. – If any one of these fails, have fun anyway!
No Argument: 10/10